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2018 Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Awards

February 3, 2019

2018 Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Awards

Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Reviews celebrates what it believes are the best scores and composers of 2018. This year, we continue doing things a little bit differently. No ‘awards’ as such; more a celebration of great music. Let us know what you think. Any surprises? Notable omissions? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Reviews celebrates those scores that are amongst my favourites of the year. I say favourites rather than best. Most of the time those two words mean almost the same, but there are some occasions when one of my favourites may not really be amongst ‘the best’; and certainly there are many technically great scores that I don’t enjoy.  I have to admit, I struggled with 2018’s output. On the whole I think it was a pretty mediocre year.  That said, when it was good it was awesome – and some of the best surprises came from unexpected composers.  I could not have predicted that some of my favourite scores would come from the hands of Ludwig Göransson, Tom Holkenborg, Marc Shaiman, Miguel d’Oliveira, Amelia Warner, John Lunn, Henry Jackman, Matthijs Kieboom, Winifred Phillips or Chris Roe.

Now, I don’t really like putting things in lists; especially Top-lists. On any other day, this list could look differently. In fact, it’s gone through lots of changes whilst compiling it.  So I would recommend to take the actual ranking with a pinch of salt. So finally, without further ado, here are…

Synchrotones’ 25 Favourite Scores of 2018


1 BLACK PANTHER — Ludwig Göransson
Phenomenal score with a strong main theme and vibrant orchestrations, taking inspiration from original African sources. The mish-mash of sounds and styles, as well as the occasional seemingly out-of-time performance caught me off-guard at first, but it quickly grew on me. It’s a kooky score, but one that’s also hugely ambitious and powerful.

2 SOLO — John Powell
On paper I shouldn’t like this score. I’m not a big Star Wars fan to begin with, I don’t like the over-reliance on brass and I don’t like the hyper-active style that Star Wars commands. Powell’s music is hyper-active at the best of times and here he cranks it up another few notches. And… I absolutely love it! There are some fantastic themes here (some Williams’, some Powell’s), the orchestrations are great and the writing (and subsequent performance) is out of this world. The nods to Williams’ original themes are emotional (Reminiscence Theory), and Powell’s new ones exhilarating (Flying With Chewie). It’s brilliant. And coupled with the release of Powell’s Hubris album, it’s  been an awesome year for Powell fans.

3 WATERSHIP DOWN — Federico Jusid
Admittedly, there is a large part of this score that leaves me underwhelmed, but when it’s good… man alive it’s fantastic. Echoing Elgar’s Nimrod and Mozart’s Requiem, there are passages of grace and beauty that aim straight for the heart. And their emotional impact is enhanced by being surrounded by plenty of sinister (almost harsh) thriller music. In all honesty, whenever I listen to this score I tend to start at track twelve. I find the first half drags a little, but the second half is an emotional powerhouse, without ever going over the top. Who needs Bright Eyes when you’ve got Black Branches That Fire!

Here’s another score that, on paper, I shouldn’t like. I don’t really do musicals and singing and happy stuff; yet here we have all three and I’m absolutely loving it. The tunes are catchy, brilliantly arranged, with great lyrics and great performances. I particularly enjoy Can You Imagine That, The Place Where  Lost Things Go and Nowhere To Go But Up. The showstopper is the End Title Suite, it’s a total barnstormer of a cue.

5 THE PREDATOR — Henry Jackman
Jackman is a huge fan of Alan Silvestri’s original Predator scores, so this project was always going to be in safe hands musically. Here, Jackman takes several of Silvestri’s themes, motifs and riffs as well as compositional and orchestration techniques… and blends in some of his own ideas and variations on the existing ones. The resulting score is an absolute hoot. It’s everything I wanted it to be. Big action cues, big thematic statements and some clever variations on those iconic rhythmic passages.

6 WILD — Mathijs Kieboom
Phenomenal score for a feature film (can’t call it documentary) about the wildlife on the Veluwe (a nature reserve/national park in the Netherlands). Kieboom presents marvellous themes and rich, colourful orchestrations. It really as good as any nature documentary score I’ve ever heard. At times I’m reminded of Star Trek, yes it’s that big and epic a score. Brilliant work.

7 EARLY MAN — Harry Gregson-Williams and Tom Howe
Oh how I love this ‘little’ score. The main theme is fantastic and forms the basis of nearly every track. It seems to go through a million variations. Orchestrations are brilliant, very vibrant as you might expect from (clay) animation. It’s a charming score, it’s playful and just an absolute joy from start to finish.

8 MARY SHELLEY — Amelia Warner
This is a very different kind of score than anything else in my top 10. Warner’s score is brooding, mysterious and melancholy; but it’s also very beautiful and mesmerising. There is a thematic consistency throughout the score, but it’s the sound that really intrigues, especially where the vocals performances are concerned. I’m not a big fan of the word ‘haunting’, but that’s exactly what this score is. It gets under your skin. In terms of comparisons, I think you’d be looking towards Johann Johannsson mostly. Warner has created a score that is both modern and timeless.

9 MAX AND ME — Mark McKenzie
If you’ve got a killer theme, you’d best use it; and that’s exactly what McKenzie does throughout this score. It borders on being mono-thematic and a bit repetitive (and I have an occasional issue with the sound quality), but it’s incredibly beautiful, very moving, very powerful – especially towards the end.

10 READY PLAYER ONE — Alan Silvestri
Silvestri delivers a monumental theme for this fun-filled high-energy 80s-throwback movie. The action music is great and Silvestri’s use of synths just keeps getting better (once a weak point, not so much any more). However, due to the fast-paced nature of the film and the inclusion of numerous pop songs, the score doesn’t quite get the chance to reach its full potential. The film is too twisty-turny for the music to gain any real momentum. And that main theme, that absolutely phenomenal main theme, is painfully under-used in the film. This could’ve been an instant classic, but sadly isn’t (and yes, I blame the film and its director for that).

11 TIDES OF FATE — Pinar Toprak
Whoa… that main theme! Proper big power anthem, with a brilliant syncopated counterpart. The opening cue alone send shivers down my spine… and then there’s still some 50 minutes to go! When it’s big, it’s powerful and relentless. When it’s small, it’s beautiful restraint and emotional. I am so excited to hear what Toprak will bring to the upcoming Captain Marvel. If Tides of Fate is anything to go by, it’s going to blow most DC and Marvel scores out of the water (because Tides does).

Wonderful retro synths and drum machines and catchy tunes…. d’Oliveira deliberately wrote a score that feels like it’s from a couple of decades ago and that’s deliberately a little sarcastic for this intriguing documentary by Sir Michael Palin. Although there isn’t a central main theme as such, consistency is achieved through chord progressions and the overall sound design. I love what d’Oliveira has done here with his collection of synths and I love how rich and warm it sounds.

All the things I could want from Richter are in this score. Beautiful string writing, piano ostinati, beauty and drama. For me, this beats the more popular Mary Queen of Scots.

14 SHETLAND — John Lunn
The first of two Lunn scores in this list. Shetland is for the most part a mysterious sounding score, echoing the bleakness of Shetland. But there is plenty of beauty too, courtesy of the Scotland-influenced main theme, which occurs throughout the score in one guise or another. A lot of the score revolves around synth pads, guitar and piano, with solo violin providing that ‘Gaelic’ sound. Away from the (excellent) show, you could consider this a very pleasant ‘new age’ album.

Like Shetland, this is a brooding score that is as much about sound and atmosphere as is it about any thematic material. On the whole, it’s darker and a little more action-packed than Shetland. It too has a Gaelic vibe to it, which comes courtesy of vocals. Along with Shetland and Mary Shelley, this is one of the best mysterioso scores of the year.

16 WELCOME TO MARWEN — Alan Silvestri
In one way, this score offers everything you could wish for in a Silvestri score. A simple but whimsical main theme, some of his signature action material, colourful orchestrations, some complex writing at times and a fantastic mix/recording by Dennis Sands. On a technical level (composition, orchestrations, performance, recording) it’s a staggeringly brilliant album. And yet… emotionally it doesn’t quite come together for me. The main theme, albeit memorable, is rather simplistic and the rest of the score is so quintessential Silvestri it almost sounds like he’s parodied himself. At times it sounds rather a lot like Contact, Cosmos, Castaway, Death Becomes Her and so on.

17 DYNASTIES — Benji Merrison and Will Slater
You could argue that this score owes a fair bit to Hans Zimmer/Remote Control’s work on the Planet Earth/Blue Planet shows, but you could also argue ‘so what’. Merrison and Slater are two hugely talented British composers who have delivered a big (I mean… we’re talking 2 hours here), bold, dynamic score for Dynasties.

The Christmas season came to live with JNH’s Nutcracker score. I adore Howard’s orchestral writing and here it’s infused with plenty of oohs and aahs, as well as nods to Tchaikovsky’s famous classical work. There are a few snoozy passages in JNH’s score, but it really comes to live during the second half of the album. It reminds of Maleficent at times, because it occupies a similar musical space, but it’s lighter and frankly not quite as good. I suspect plenty of my peers would prefer the Fantastic Beasts sequel over Nutcracker, but clearly for me it’s the other way round, though they sound quite similar (again, similar space – and that’s why they share the same spot in this list). Fantastic Beats is much more action-packed and adventurous than Nutcracker and on the surface of things that may seem more appealing. Sure, Beasts is very accessible and easy to like, but it does become a little tiresome after a while. So basically, if both albums were shorter, they’d have been quite a bit higher up in this list.

19 ALTERED STATES — Miguel d’Oliveira
More synthy goodness from my favourite Portuguese, this time for a series of Louis Theroux documentaries. As with the North Korea score, the binding element is not thematic, but it’s the sound.

20 MORTAL ENGINES — Tom Holkenborg
I bet you weren’t expecting a Junkie XL score in my list, but… I’m actually surprised it’s not higher up! I love this score, or most of it. The London theme is memorable as fook and has been going round and round in my head for yonks. Yes I know it’s heavily Wagner inspired, but when was that ever a bad thing? (Never.) Secondary themes are equally memorable and surprisingly poignant. The use of electronics makes sense and is effective, though it remains an orchestra-driven score. It is rather over the top and over produced but honestly… it’s probably one of the most fun scores of last year.

East meets West in this lovely, playful and colourful score, very much in the style of Thomas Newman’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Perhaps not terribly original, but certainly very well done and hugely enjoyable.

22 SPITFIRE — Chris Roe
I came across this score almost accidentally. It quite an understated score in a way, but one that is utterly charming and full of love for the Spitfire.

This is one of those scores you might overlook because of its title. That said, if you’re familiar with Aaltio’s work, you know to expect a big, lively, colourful score with a catchy main theme. A bit mickey-mousey at times, but so much fun!

24 SCRAPER: FIRST STRIKE — Winifred Phillips
Hello… no idea where this came from, but it’s rather good. Big full-bodied action score.

25 MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS — Max Richter
This is good, yet I don’t like it as much as I had hoped. Key element to this score is a motif (a set of chords) for strings that instantly recall Handel’s Zadok the Priest. Now, this is very beautiful and I like it a lot, but there doesn’t appear to be much more to the score than that. I’m expecting variations, I’m expecting a proper theme to arise out of this, but it doesn’t. So although I like it enough to include it on my list, it’s also rather disappointing.

And here are some more that I thoroughly enjoyed last year…

11:11 MEMORIES RETOLD — Olivier Derivière
CALL THE MIDWIFE — Maurizio Malagnini
CREED II — Ludwig Göransson
GAME NIGHT — Cliff Martinez
HALLOWEEN — John Carpenter and Cody Carpenter
HALVDAN VIKING — Gaute Storaas
HURRICANE — Laura Rossi
INCREDIBLES 2 — Michael Giacchino
INFORMER — Ilan Eshkeri
KING OF THIEVES — Benjamin Wallfisch
LE CATEDRAL DEL MAR — Federico Jusid
LOST IN SPACE — Christopher Lennertz
LOVE SIMON — Rob Simonsen
MARY MAGDALENE — Jóhann Jóhannsson and Hildur Guðnadottir
NEXT GEN — Samuel Jones and Alexis Marsh
NOSTALGIA — Laurent Eyquem
PETER RABBIT — Dominic Lewis
PUZZLE — Dustin O’Halloran
SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO — Hildur Guðnadóttir
THE DARKEST MINDS — Benjamin Wallfisch
THE HATE U GIVE — Dustin O’Halloran
THE MERCY — Jóhann Jóhannsson
TORN — Garry Schyman
WILSON’S HEART — Christopher Young

Composers of the Year

Alan Silvestri
Amelia Warner
Federico Jusid
Henry Jackman
John Powell
Ludwig Goransson
Marc Shaiman
Mathijs Kieboom
Miguel d’Oliveira
Pinar Toprak

And here are some of my favourite individual cues of the year…

Altered States, A Better Place, Miguel d’Oliveira
Black Panther, United Nations End Titles, Ludwig Goransson
Dynasties, Dynasties Opening Titles, Benji Merrison/Will Slater
Early Man, Dug’s Theme, Harry Gregson-Willams/Tom Howe
Early Man, Royal Game Day, Harry Gregson-Willams/Tom Howe
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Salamander Eyes, James Newton Howard
Le Catedral Del Mar, Chacona Celestrial Final, Federico Jusid
Life Itself, Life Itself, Federico Jusid
Lost in Space, Main Titles, Christopher Lennertz
Mary Magdelene, The Mustard Seed, Johann Johannsson/Hildur Gudnadottir
Mary Poppins Returns, End Title Suite, Marc Shaiman
Mary Shelley, An Unreal Mystery, Amelia Warner
Mary Shelley, The Book, Amelia Warner
Mary: Queen of Scots, Finale, Max Richter
Max and Me, Heaven’s Welcome, Mark McKenzie
Max and Me, Triumph Over Fear, Mark McKenzie
Michael Palin in North Korea, Future Hope, Miguel d’Oliveira
Mortal Engines, London Suite, Tom Holkenborg
My Brilliant Friend, Our Reflection, Max Richter
Ready Player One, Main Theme, Alan Silvestri
Solo, Flying With Chewie, John Powell
Solo, Reminiscence Therapy, John Powell
Spitifire, Aerial Ballet, Chris Roe
Super Furball, Super Furball Theme, Panu Aaltio
The Good Karma Hospital, Ruby’s Theme, Ben Foster
The Mercy, The Mercy, Johann Johannsson
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Clara Finds the Key, James Newton Howard
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Sugar Plum and Clara, James Newton Howard
The Predator, On The Loose, Henry Jackman/Alan Silvestri
Tides of Fate, Tides of Fate, Pinar Toprak
Watership Down, Black Brunches That Fire, Federico Jusid
Watership Down, I Fear Nothing, Federico Jusid
Watership Down, Join My Owsla, Federico Jusid
Watership Down, Well Done, Hazel-Rah, Federico Jusid
Wild, A Change of Seasons Part 1 Spring, Mathijs Kieboom

Last Year’s (2017) Top 10

1. Thor: Ragnarok  (Mark Mothersbaugh)
2. Viceroy’s House  (A.R. Rahman)
3. Captain Underpants  (Theodore Shapiro)
4. Ferdinand  (John Powell)
5. Bitter Harvest  (Benjamin Wallfisch)
6. Tommy’s Honour  (Christian Henson)
7. Downsizing  (Rolfe Kent)
8. Their Finest  (Rachel Portman)
9. Mully  (Benjamin Wallfisch)
10. Blue Planet II  (Zimmer/Shea/Flemming)

Congratulations to all composers on their wonderful works. Many thanks to all the composers, agents, publicists, record labels who made it possible for me to hear so much great music this year. I wish you all a fabulous 2019!

Article by Pete Simons. The 2018 Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Awards (c) 2019 Synchrotones

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